Someone check the fire extinguishers in the Cal locker room. They could be all used up from cooling off the Bears at halftime.
There’s no denying that the Bears have pulled a shocking turnaround this season, going from a 1-10 embarrassment to a 4-3 record and the spectre of a bowl bid a few weeks away.
But whatever the Bears have been doing in the locker room at halftime, it hasn’t been working. Cal has outscored its opponents 163-55 in the first half this season and haven’t trailed at halftime yet. Their three losses have all been the result of second-half collapses, both on offense and defense.
“We’ve talked about this as a team, and we know we need to come out stronger in the second half,” head coach Jeff Tedford said this week. “But you have to give the opposition some credit too. They see things and they make adjustments.”
According to Cal players, their coaches haven’t been making many changes to the game plan in the locker room. Then again, a halftime lead is usually a sign things are going right, so why change?
“Normally you don’t want to make too many adjustments when you’re winning the game,” cornerback James Bethea said. “We’re doing the same things we’re having success with in the first half. We just have to keep doing it right.”
But there’s little question that something must be done to shake the team’s second-half doldrums. They’ve surrendered more than twice as many points after the break as before it, including a complete defensive meltdown against Washington State in which the Cougars scored 29 points in the third quarter alone.
Interestingly, teams have attacked the Cal defense in different ways in the second half. Washington State lived in the air, throwing deep to their big receivers for big plays that went incomplete in the first half. USC, on the other hand, pounded away with tailback Sultan McCullough, who picked up 120 of his 176 rushing yards in the second half of the Trojans’ comeback win.
In all three losses, the Cal offense has sputtered just as the opposition has caught fire.
“I think teams do make good adjustments on us,” wide receiver LaShaun Ward said. “I feel like they catch on to us a little bit. But if we keep our fundamentals and do the small things, no team can stop us, even if they change their defense.”
This week will be a test of the Bears’ third-quarter composure, as UCLA has outscored its opponents 46-18 in that period. The Bruins, like most Pac-10 teams, are talented enough that one scheme isn’t enough to stop them for an entire game. They can pound the ball on the ground with three different tailbacks or go up top to receivers like Craig Bragg, Tab Perry and tight end Mike Seidman. Tedford and his coaching staff may want to spend a little more time making tweaks to their game plans to keep the Bruins from continuing an ugly trend.